The Debate Over Afghanistan

Contra Bacevich, Abu Muqawama writes:

Plenty of us in Washington have in fact been having a very sober-minded discussion about U.S. interests in Afghanistan and the limits of our new counterinsurgency doctrine.

Michael Cohen counters:

While sure some people have had this discussion; but to argue that it's been a key feature of the public discourse on Afghanistan is pretty hard to swallow. And for [Muqawama] to use Stephen Biddle's tortured logic argument for staying in Afghanistan that offers a strawman choice between withdrawal and stay the course is not what I would call a robust debate. [...] And what's more I'll call your Stephen Biddle and raise you Peter Bergen's recent piece in the Washington Monthly. I like Peter and he is a colleague, but I think it's fair to say that his article focuses far more on the operational side of the Afghanistan war and tends to gloss over the larger strategic issues raised by Bacevich.

It's one thing to focus on cloistered debates among think tank denizens. It's quite another to call that a robust public debate. The level of public debate in Washington about US interests and objectives in Afghanistan has been frightfully constricted. The only discordant voices from political leaders is coming from the left of the Democratic Party, Russ Feingold and his ilk. When Bacevich says "Among Democrats and Republicans alike, with few exceptions, Afghanistan’s importance is simply assumed" well I'm sorry, but if we're talking the political realm that certainly seems to be the case.

From a media perspective, the WP and NYT are filled with stories about operational elements of our mission in Afghanistan; a lot less on national interests. Indeed, not one reporter even bothered to ask President Obama in his recent press conference a single question about Afghanistan. And as the mission evolves from a counter-terrorism mission (disrupt, defeat and dismantle Al Qaeda) into a full-fledged counter-insurgency (protecting the populace and building Afghan government legitimacy) it's more important than ever that these questions are asked and answered.